THE ambitious multi-million Portlaoise parish primary school amalgamation project has suffered a setback as planners have expressed serious reservations with respect to overall access and high traffic volumes at the site.
Planning permission was lodged by Portlaoise Parish on August 27 for the development of two new thirty-two classroom schools with a combined capacity of 1,920 pupils at Aghnaharna, incorporating the amalgamation of three existing schools – Sacred Heart, Scoil Mhuire and St Paul’s.
And while a decision was expected on the application earlier this month, the Planning Authority has instead sought further information.
In correspondence, they advised Portlaoise Parish: “The Planning Authority has serious reservations with respect to the overall access and car parking arrangements proposed for this site, where the nature and scale of the use proposed will generate high traffic volumes.”
Planners have requested that a Stage 2 Road Safety Audit (RSA) be conducted and that the design of the proposed development should be revised to include the recommnendations of the RSA. The applicants are warned, “The RSA will not be deemed complete until all mitigation works as identified by the audit have been included in the design of the development.”
A Mobility Management Plan is being sought along with the provision of at least twenty covered, secure bicycle stands for staff members and pupils.
Planners have advised Portlaoise Parish ‘to liaise with the Road Design Section’ of Laois County Council in relation to these issues. Monsignor John Byrne PP, Chairperson of the Parish Schools Board of Management, said he wasn’t particularly concerned that the ‘rapid’ development had received the green light from County Hall whereas the parish were being asked to submit further information and he doesn’t regard it as a set back.
“I believe the further information is something to do with circulation of traffic within the site. I’m not particularly concerned. The applications went in separately. We’re not anticipating any difficulty but one never knows.”
He pointed out that traffic volume wasn’t a new issue. “This traffic exists already. It comes into the centre of town every morning and every evening. It is certainly relocating it and it is always a problem. There is quite a build period for these schools so I would hope traffic solutions can be sorted out in the meantime.”
Mons Byrne concluded, “There is one thing certain and it is backed up by the census figures. There is a dire need for school places for our young children and that is a very big priority for the town that there would be enough school places for the very rapidly growing population.
“We are in a crisis situation at the moment but all the indications from the population figures are is that the demand is increasing and we just have got to get the classrooms in place.”
Portlaoise Parish have also been requested by the Planning Authority to submit precise details of all boundary treatments proposed for the site and a detailed and comprehensive landscaping plan.
A DoES spokesperson previously told the ‘Leinster Express’ that the project for Portlaoise amalgamation is on the ‘five year construction programme, to commence construction in 2013.”
Meanwhile, the largest primary school in Portlaoise – Scoil Bhride, Knockmay, has almost 700 pupils enrolled and while it was granted planning permission for a new 32 classroom school, it is unlikely to proceed until 2014/’15.